Learning to Grow and Change

#3 multitasking for his Cooking Merit Badge.

It has been quite a busy several months. Can’t say there has been too much homeschooling wise to talk about, which is one of the reasons why I have not written for so many long months. However, that means there are lots of pictures I can post. 😀

With Rosh Hashanah, Sukkos, our latest bar mitzvah, the week later my nephew’s bar mitzvah, a few weeks later our yearly Thanksgiving trip, the boys’ camping trip to Big Bend, Chanukah… When did we have time for school? Or, as I am typing, I am thinking that perhaps I can rephrase that: That WAS our schooling, so perhaps there really is something to write about.

I do have stuff to write about, and all those amazing trips really are one of the wonderful

Happy 16th Birthday Mr. Big!

reasons why I love homeschooling for I don’t have to answer to anyone and we really can and do make our lives as much learning as we can. However, that is not the main reason for writing. We will get that those, but there are other things.

Life changes, and we have to learn to adjust to the changes. The past two years have been very challenging for us. Our move down south was definitely not what we had in mind and that is the hard part. I am slowly, very slowly, starting to realize that what I have in mind is irrelevant. I used to think that I was very flexible. If my husband wanted a break and asked me if I wanted to go out with the family for a night to a hotel, I used to be able to pack and be ready in 45 minutes for a wonderful adventure. I am learning though, that yes, I am flexible in some areas, but in others I am not. That is the challenge.

We started the school year with one less boy at home. One boy, who actually hates change, needed so badly to have a change and go off to Yeshiva. Normally I do not believe that children should go away from home for school, however,  I understand that there are exceptions. Our one child is an exception. It took me a long time to get there. I felt I was not trying hard enough, and with a little bit more work, a little bit more proper advice, I could make things work. Yes, I did get some help, and yes, the help really worked, however, it still took me many months to realize that no, I was not a terrible mother, not a terrible teacher, it is just my child is ready for something else. I am happy to report that our child is doing well. He is happy and he is learning. What more can I ask for? He still has a ways to go, but one step at a time and with G-d’s help, he will get there.

I started the year very quiet. The whole house dynamics was so different. It was a good

Saba and Mr. Little.

thing. The other boys started opening up. I now had the ability to see what else was needed in the house. Mr. Little, who is not so little, got to have more of my attention. We are doing pretty much what we did last year – I have my Charlotte Mason for the secular and Melamed Academy for the Judaics. I have to say that the Melamed Academy has come a long way from last year. The older boys have a Rebbe for Gemara and Mishnayos and they have weekly live shiurim they attend. I have added  private tutoring with Rabbi Resnick from Room613.net. The boys have learned with Rabbi Resnick for several years, many years ago, and were really excited when I asked if they would like to have him for their Gemara now. With all that set up, school didn’t seem so bad – until you start adding in all the wonderful Yomim Tovim.

It is hard to keep up with school with all the holidays! But, I cannot complain. Amidst all the spiritual highs, Mr. Boy #3 became a Man. 🙂 Motzei Yom Kippur he had his birthday. Such

Bar Mitzvah Cousins!

a lucky boy he was this year. He was told to eat all day on Yom Kippur until the last 72 minutes and then he had to fast.  We teased him about that. We waited until a few weeks later, Parshas Beraishis, before celebrating for he cousin had his bar mitzvah the next week, Parshas Noach, and we wanted my parents to be able to easily attend both simchas. It definitely was a whirlwind of several weeks. Sukkos, Boy Scout campout again in our sukkah, two bar mitzvahs and lots of wonderful time with family. My parents were excited. I made Saba (Grandpa) learn Chumash with Mr. Little every day. It gave them something wonderful to do. Saba and Mr. Little have a special bond. They love to Skype with each other regularly and read stories to each other. My parents took my boys with them to my sister’s house, leaving my DH and I two days to ourselves!  Thanks to my parents and my sister for babysitting!

I have to say, Hashem heard my prayers and saw my tears this summer. He just decided that my time alone would be better off at a different time when I did not have to worry about making a school schedule. DH took ALL boys (well, all three) to Big Bend to camp for a

Big Bend National Park

week in December. That meant… you guessed it… I was home, All. By. Myself. Just me. 🙂 It gave me that so much needed break. I spent time on the computer the first day. I did not know what to do with myself. It did get cold here that morning, the cold front come through, though Big Bend was one of two spots in the country that was warm. On Monday, I tidied up some of the rooms and started on a deep clean of the coat closet. I had small goals, I knew better. I spent all day Tuesday cleaning the coat closet. I tossed as much as I could out – I still am working on minimalizing my house. It is a slow process. It felt so good to not feel rushed that someone is coming home, and I could just leave things if I was finished for the day and go to bed! Wednesday was my spiritual day. I did make sure I did some reading every day, but Wednesday was my big day. I decided that after the cleaning was done, this was my opportunity to reconnect. With being busy with beautiful boys, it is not usually easy for me to find time, so I made sure I made time. By the time everyone

Big Bend National Park

came home on Thursday, I was ready. I was calm, happy, and felt recharged. And I did not have to leave home, which was the best!

The big thing this year is that we finally got to see what each of the other boys were needing. Mr. Big was not doing well. Our city is big, and there are many religious family here, there are several areas in town. However, the big thing is that it is still a “young” community. There are so many children here. However, the kicker is that they stop at about 13 years of age. After that, there just are not very many kids. Our oldest is now 16 and we asked someone in the know and he could only come up with 3 boys that age. Two are out of town and the other is in a different area of town. There are basically no boys here for him. That is a big problem. That along with other things that have happened created a situation that needed our immediate attention.

This is where I got stuck. We knew what we needed to do though I had a hard time accepting things. I had my head stuck in one direction and could not shift into another

His First Day of Yeshiva!

gear. Our son needed to go to Yeshiva. He did not need to go away from home, but he needed friends. The Yeshiva here has mainly out of town boys with a few in town boys from the other side of town. It was a hard few months for me as I struggled with me and who I was. I was not a failure. From 4 down to 2. It was a hard thing to swallow. I had to swallow my ego and that was not easy. Afterall, I was “That Homeschool Mom,” for the good and not so good. I had to live up to that title, didn’t I?

No.

That is not who I am. I am a mother of 4 beautiful boys and wife to an amazing husband. As a Mother, all I want is the best for my children. If teaching them at home is the best for them, or, at least, the same as sending to them to school, and I want and can teach them, then I will. If there comes a time when something is better, then, as a Mother, I will do my best to make sure they get it. Up until now, homeschooling really was the best for them.

Chanukah with all my boys 😀

Now, after 16 years, my oldest is ready to move on. Baruch Hashem, he has a had a good first week of school and is finishing the week off with a Shabbaton. I would like to think that he appreciates at least some of what I taught him and gave him over the last 16 years,( though, that just might be my ego getting to me again. 😉 ) In many ways, he has a huge advantage over other boys, and he knows it, and in other ways he will catch up really fast. DH and I are very happy with how and what we taught them in their Judaics (as well as secular). They have learned stuff that most boys do not learn and it is stuff that puts them ahead in a big way. Mr. Big is good at perception and I do believe that he understands this. We listened to part of a shiur several weeks ago that stated that he believes that boys should be learning the material that we taught and why.

As we head on over to the second half of the school year, I am finally really excited. I have one boy who insists that he wants to remain learning at home (yeah! I can think that I

Freezing maple syrup on snow!

really am doing at least a little good,) and one boy whom I can give a lot more attention with his learning that he needs over the next few years. OH! And I can’t forget to mention that Mr. Boy #3 passed his Amateur Radio test! Another Kosher Ham in the house! 😀

Things are good. It just depends on if we can train our minds to understand that. Things are slowing down in some ways, which is helpful, so that I can focus my attention on things that need me. I am optimistic that the three of us who are home are going to have lots of fun. 🙂

 

A Gut Moed! Remembering Our Year

KIMG1113I hope that everyone has had wonderful Yomim Tovim so far. We are getting near the end and I don’t want to think about that for I will miss all the ruchnius feelings. I hope to gather as much as I can to tie me over until the spring, which this year, is including a leap year so that means an extra month’s wait until the next Yom Tov. We do have a few little peaks in the dark with Chanukah and Purim, which is a good thing for it would be hard otherwise.

It has been a long time since I have written up something. I thought about it before Rosh Hashanah, before Yom Kippur, and yes, before Sukkos, but, alas, it never happened. But now I have a bit of a reprieve and I can sit down while the boys are busy and not getting into too much trouble. 😉 Over the weeks I have had many things that I could write down, if I had the time, but alas, they were not meant to be written down for I can’t remember most of them.

The one thing that I do remember thinking about is our last Shabbos we spent beforeIMG_20141006_083458 starting on our journey to the new chapter of our lives. It was a bitter sweet Shabbos Yom Kippur. Motzei Yom Kippur was the Hebrew birthday of Beautiful Boy #3 and after loading our Beverly Hillbillies van all the way to the hilt (minus the rocking chair – that got thrown out in the trash – and Granny – no chair so we couldn’t take her 😉  ), we had a wonderful Good Bye lunch at the delicious Sabra’s Grill with our wonderful friends and then off we went down the road. Down, down, down south. Across the country we went, seeing the sights as we passed, watching the scenery slowly change, seeing new vegetation and observing various cultures. Three wonderful days later, I will still remember that Hashem blessed us and we got within 500 feet of our hotel before running out of gas. It was Erev Sukkos, and the English birthday of our Beautiful Boy #3.

Last year we did not have a sukkah. Last Sukkos we were in a temporary home (a hotel) – just like a sukkah. It was a very strange feeling. My Sukkos had so much more meaning to me. It has been quite a year with several temporary homes and lots of other changes, but Baruch Hashem, we finally found our home and this year we have a wonderful Sukkah. We were treated to a nice surprise when several Boy Scouts from our Troop came on Erev Yom Kippur and even though it was hot and the day before a fast, they put up our new sukkah. (Having both the Scout Master and the SPL live here helps!) So this year, we have a wonderful home with a wonderful large sukkah and as I type, we are hosting the Troop at our home and in our sukkah until tomorrow morning. This means I don’t have to make meals for 24 hours (2 breakfasts, a lunch and a supper, along with a party) and I was just handed a bowl of macaroni and cheese with a glass of cream soda.

It has been a trying year for us, but I think it was good. I am hoping for a more productive learning year for us. School schedules need to be adjusted, as they always do once I complete a week or so of learning at the beginning of the school year. In the meantime, I am trying to soak up as much as I can from this time of the year before all the Yomim Tovim are behind us and we will start up again then.

We did have a wonderful chemistry experiment that we managed to do last night. We experimented with how various ingredients work (and tasted) in chocolate chip cookies!KIMG1105 White flour vs whole wheat, butter vs oil, white sugar vs brown sugar, baking soda vs no baking soda, and even caramelized vs non (cookies were baked over 356 degrees F). Eating cookies in the sukkah and Skyping with Saba while he was at his sukkah party made for a nice evening.

Wishing everyone a wonderful Moed and hope you can soak up all the wonderful energy from the remaining days!

<3

Reflections

20130913_015121I was telling one of my boys, I forget which one, that Hashem is just so amazing. We have all year to do teshuva (repentence). When the month of Elul comes in we sound the shofar to awaken up our neshamas to do teshuva. Why? Because He knows we get busy and Life happens. Then comes Rosh Hashanah, the time that Hashem judges the entire world and decides what is in store for each of us for the coming year. But that is not all – He gives us 10 extra days! Why? Because He loves us and He created this world and knows that Life happens. On Rosh Hashanah He wrote in pencil. He is very patient and even after making His decision, He leans closer to us… and waits even longer. He yearns for us to reach up and do teshuva. When we do, on Yom Kippur our sins will be removed. So wonderful, but this is still not all! Our year is then inscribed in ink, but not just any ink, a very slow drying ink. So slow that it takes until after Sukkos to dry. Why? To give us yet another chance. Wet ink is a little bit harder to remove than pencil, but with a little bit more effort, it can be sopped up. We must be loved.

This past week has been really trying. As I mentioned, the first day of school was all but a mess. Tuesday did not fair much better. I was all ready to start the day when I remembered we had some change of plans – from going to a bris to taking a few minutes break at home before heading to a levaya (funeral). Needless to say, I did not really feel like teaching for a while afterwards. The last two days have been not too bad, though remember that I said I planned on taking the day before school to make sure I had all the books ready for the boys instead of going popcorn selling? Well, I probably should have not gone popcorn selling for I did miss several things that needed printing off!

The plus side to things is that because all the craziness of the week is now behind me, on the night before Yom Kippur I *finally* have time to recap (and drink water!) I have tried to sit down and do this before, I really have, but I would find myself sitting and trying and just getting too antsy to sit still any longer. Now, I have time. I have found that the past day or so I have been asking myself, “Am I being the best mother? Am I being the best teacher? When a beautiful boy is being who he is supposed to be and not listening, am I listening to what he is really trying to say, but can’t?”

A few weeks ago, I went for a short walk with my 4 year old. He wanted to ride bikes, but I was not wearing a skirt for biking and I just wanted to walk with him. He finally agreed as long as he could take his pen and paper for he wanted to make a map of our trip. No problem. It took me three houses before I realized that making a map meant that we would have to stop at each and every house so that he could plot our route. I really just wanted to walk. I  was 20130913_005156 (1)good though and very calmly tried to convince him that we needed to walk a certain distance before writing more down. When we reached the destination I gave him a few moments to draw his route. Did I mention, he loves to write his name and can write all the other family members’ names (or initials)? Being a lefty, he also tends to write right to left. I stood and watched him, really trying hard to not seem too ready to move on. He started writing and I looked from above. I watched as he wrote, “Mom <3 Matti” And then it was one of those moments. You know, the one that makes you feel like you were hit pretty hard. “Oh, you wrote that Mommy loves Matti?” “Yes!” “You are right, Mommy does love Matti.” (*tears in eyes*) [Just look for the biggest heart in the picture!] Somehow I was just not as anxious to walk for the exercise anymore. I don’t remember if we stopped at all on the way back home, but I enjoyed every second of it with him.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are not just about all the not so good things we have done, it is also about being a better Me. If I look back over the years, I do see improvement, maybe not as much as I would like, but it is there. I have to be happy about that. Change is not easy, but it is doable. I am hoping the tiny successes will inspire me to keep moving along the lines that I need to go in. I am not going to worry that the first week of school is one that I do not want to repeat, and so glad I can’t. The Days of Awe are still here, even if it is just for a short time more, I still have time to set a plan for the year. If I change myself, the boys change as well for they will mirror me. Children are funny that way. I have a feeling this year is going to be a good one. I not only love what I do, I feel very blessed to be able to do it. No, I’m not the best Me, but I am confident that I will be a better mother and a better teacher. It helps that I think I now have everything printed off for school. 🙂

In the meantime, I continue to count my blessings, and I thought most of you might would either be able to relate to the following mother or find another good reason why you homeschool (or both!)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/claire-wapole/thirty-minutes-tops_b_3861853.html

Wishing you all a Gemar Chasima Tova, an easy and meaningful fast and a most amazing (homeschooling) year! Oh, and popcorn pickup is tomorrow afternoon, my garage will be full!

Popcorn, Yomim Tovim, Yomim Tovim and More Yomim Tovim!

Rosh Hashanah has come, Yom Kippur will be here in less than 24 hours.  I have been trying to think of something to write, but nothing popped into mind.

Baruch Hashem we have been busy.  Our annual Scout popcorn fundraiser is in full swing now, with $4000 worth of popcorn already bought – and that does not include the chocolate flavors that we could not purchase this round (the chocolate melts too easily we are told.)  I am told the popcorn is much better than last year and not to mention it is in tins again.  (All popcorn is OU-D, with the plain unpopped kernels OU-Parve – anyone interested? 😉  )

This is the best and worst time of the year.  The best time for the boys to work on their socialization skills and go door-to-door and talk to all sorts of people – from young to old, from cranky to nice, from English speakers to non-English speakers.  They also get lots of exercise for they do a lot of walking!  It is the worst time for Daddy and Mommy have to go and take them all over, not just once, but twice when we have to deliver to the wonderful places that bought.  But soon it will be over and we are hoping that the older two will have earned enough to go to one week of Jewish Scout camp in the summer (the number 3 boy has one more year before he can go!)

We sure hit our new year off to a good start with missing the first 1.5 days of Room613!  Several boys thought they read there will be no classes the ENTIRE week, not just for Rosh Hashanah.  But after talking to my sister and a friend on the second day after Rosh Hashanah, I found out they were wrong.  Lesson learned: Read my emails more closely… It was not a total loss, I tried to add more secular work into the 2 days that would have been missed because of Rosh Hashanah.

We did not delve into Yom Kippur last week too much, probably should have, though I had other unrelated things on my mind.  Sometimes I find it hard to balance personal learning and introspection with teaching the boys and helping them out with the same things.  We did talk about some of the basic prayers and their meanings.  I also found some nice Kol Nidre songs on Youtube to help get us in the mood.  One thing I told the boys is that they should read the davening in English – especially the Al Chets.  Since all the davening we do is for us, not Hashem, how are we supposed to put ourselves in the correct frame of mind if we do not even know what we are saying?

This week we worked on Yonah and the Whale.  I found some nice one page versions for preschoolers and a cute song for the little one, as well as a translation of the Vilna Gaon’s work on sefer Yonah.  That is set for high school, however, my older boys are getting some of it.  They just had chapter 1 on chinuch.org, however, I was able to find the full English version at the  Daf Yomi Review website.  We are not going to finish what we have, but that is fine, that leaves more to learn another time. My youngest wanted stuff to color today, but the computer we use for printing was being used, so I will hopefully print out a copy of Yonah and the whale for him to color tomorrow while we sing our song or I’m working with the older boys.

Sukkos is right around the corner, and it is always tough to do Sukkos learning with very few days – I feel I should spend several days on Yom Kippur, and not just rush through it to start Sukkos material, but then I feel Sukkos gets jipped!  I did buy nice 8.5 x 11 charts from Torah U’Mesorah on Sukkos many years ago.  I do not always go over them with the boys, but I think it is time to do them again.  When the older boys were younger, I did manage to do several projects such as a styrofoam esrog and foam/feathered lulav, however, lately we have been focusing on getting the sukkah all up and set that we do not do very many crafts for we are also still doing school work.  We are fortunate for the front entrance to the house has three walls already and all we need to do is add schach on top.  We have most of the schach (about 70 individual bamboo sticks), but it is not quite enough, and we always have to figure out where to find more!  I think I will need to come up with one nice decoration they can each do, the previous ones are getting old.  Oh, and I think I have one more styrofoam ball the youngest can paint as well as some green foam.  I think an older brother might like to spend some quality time with his youngest bro. 🙂

I am going to finish up, drink more liquid, and try to finish getting myself ready for tomorrow night.  Wishing everyone a Gemar Chasima Tovah and an easy fast!